Matt Woodley: This is Matt Woodley, editor of PreachingToday.com on Monday Morning Preacher, where we take a look at tools to improve our preaching by listening to examples from master preachers. I'm here today with my guest host, Kevin Miller, one of our featured preachers.
Kevin Miller: Hey, Matt, great to be back.
MW: Great to have you here again, Kevin.
KM: Yeah, I know you gave me a couple episodes off.
MW: We had some other territory to cover.
KM: I assume your ratings plummeted in that time.
MW: They actually went up. It's great to have you back though.
KM: 148? They couldn't have rounded up, found two more and gotten to 150?
MW: Apparently not. So they left it at 148.
KM: So what was on the list?
MW: Well, some of my favorites on that list include … (music: "Achy Breaky Heart"). Yep, the list also included "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" by Tom Waits, and "Two Hearts" by the boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. Then there's this one from Elvis … (music: "Heartbreak Hotel"). And let us not forget this Oscar winner … (music: "My Heart Will God on").
KM: Okay, so wow, that's a lot of heart songs. What does that say about American culture?
MW: We are into the heart, man. We love the heart. Which is one of the reasons why we're focusing this podcast on preaching to the heart. But of course, more importantly the Bible has a lot to say about the heart, so I did a quick word count on the number of times the word heart appears in the Bible. Any guesses?
MW: You're close. 862.
KM: Like not even close.
MW: I was just trying to be nice. So you know it's an important theme. But of course in the Bible the word heart is much more than just feelings, it's basically your whole person. It's where Jesus says where your treasure is there will your heart be also. So it's what you treasure.
KM: So as we talk about preaching to the heart, can you tighten up that definition. What exactly are we going to be talking about today?
MW: Yeah, it could sound a little abstract, but it's really crucial for us as preachers. I think it means basically that our preaching doesn't only provide good information or solid exegesis of a biblical text, or even nice outlines. Not even that it's clear and simple. It also means that ultimately it challenges and changes what people put their trust in, what their treasure is. It gets to the core of their being, so Jesus becomes their ultimate treasure, even when it's hard to follow him.
KM: Yeah. It's like where it says when Peter preached on Pentecost that people were cut to the heart. So what does it take to preach sermons like that?
MW: This may be a really simple first step, and it may seem obvious, but I think it's really crucial that we as preachers have to say, “I want to do that, I really want to preach to the heart.”
KM: But don’t we already? What am I missing?
MW: Well, I think we do, but I've got to be honest; I went back and I looked over some of my sermons from about ten years ago, so I've been preaching for about 25 years now fairly regularly, and even about ten, fifteen years into my preaching, technically they were really good and they had really good information and good outlines and good illustrations and all that kind of stuff, but I don’t think they were really aimed like an arrow at the human heart. They lacked that heart orientation. So I had to come before the Lord and say, “Lord, time is too short, your gospel is too beautiful, people's lives matter too much, I have to preach to the heart.” So I think we as preachers have to hunger for this and desire to become better at this aspect of preaching.
KM: Okay, so who are we going to try to learn from today?
MW: Well, we've got some great examples on PreachingToday.com. There's some preachers that do this so well. Today, we're going to listen to a clip from one of my favorite preachers, Bryan Chapell—preaching prof and author of Christ-Centered Preaching. This idea of preaching to the heart is one of his big themes in preaching. So here's a clip from his sermon titled "Your New Identity."
Bryan Chapell: Sometimes people say, "Wouldn't it be great if God were like Jesus?" And those of you well trained in the faith know that, well, actually he is. And sometimes when we have failed or look back over lives of struggle or pain, we say, "Wouldn't it be great if God would love me the way he loves Jesus." And the Good News of the gospel is, he does. For you who have put your faith in Christ Jesus, sin is nailed to the cross and the identity of Christ is yours—so that God looks at you and says, "You are my precious child, I love you."
And then we begin to wrestle back. We say, "But God, don't you know these struggles, these sins, these difficulties. I'm not what I should be, I know that." And so the same God who loves you, who has put the power of Jesus Christ in you, says, "Listen, you're not only profoundly loved, you are powerfully changed." Jesus died for your sin.
But that's not the end of the story. "I am crucified with Christ, I no longer live but Christ … " What? Lives. Where? In me. What that means is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in me and in you. We have been transformed spiritually. There is a reality of spiritual transformation that is here now, present, changing you. And at times we listen to the lie of Satan that says, "You can't help it, you can't change, you can't be fixed." And God says by his Word, "That is a lie." "Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world." There's a reality of Jesus Christ that's not visible to the world, which people cannot accept until they begin to say, "I'm not going to put faith in my power, my strength, my doing. I'm going to put my faith in Jesus." And when that happens there is a power of the resurrection, what Easter is really about, that comes and begins to indwell us so that we have hope again, that we have to say, "I can change because God by his Spirit now indwells me."
MW: So Kevin, tell me one thing that you noticed about what Bryan Chapell did there that demonstrates preaching to the heart.
KM: Well, one thing I loved was how Bryan put into words the kind of emotional pushback I may feel when I hear the greatness of God's truth and love and realize the gap with my own experience of that. I loved how he put that in words.
MW: His point here at this point in the sermon is not to give more information about the text. He's done that earlier in the sermon, he's done a fine job of exegesis, he's had a nice, clear outline. Now the sermon is not moving in a linear fashion, it's more like a drill that's boring down into the person's soul and into the heart, and I love where he says, "I am crucified with Christ, I no longer live but Christ. What? Lives. Where? In me.” The sentences are getting really simple, short, and direct. It's a pastor speaking to his people from his heart to their heart.
There are some things that we can do on our end to make this more effective. One of the things I know you talk about, Kevin, is you talk about knowing your material well. Why is that so important to preaching to the heart, and how have you learned how to do that?
KM: Well, I was dragged here kicking and screaming by a friend of mine. He said, “You know what, your content is really good, you do your faithful, biblical exposition. But your delivery is not as good as your content, people don't feel the level of intensity that you hope they will.” And I said, Well, what do I do about that? He said, Well, one thing is why don't you get up out of your notes. And I said, What are you saying? He said, Preach without notes.
MW: Ooh, scary.
KM: I was like, What, jump out a plane without a parachute? But I finally took his dare and I still do have some notes tucked in my Bible but far less, and I realized what happened for me was that I was able to give more eye contact, more emotion and more emotional connectedness to my people than I had been before.
MW: That is great advice. Thank God for the wounds of a faithful preacher friend to give you some feedback like that. That's awesome. Another thing I think too that really helps us preach to the heart is illustrations.
KM: Yeah, you're good at that.
MW: Well, Bryan Chapell, one of his big things is that illustrations do not explain the biblical text, and he almost seems to get a little frustrated sometimes because it's like preachers almost don't believe him. But he believes that illustrations are more to drive the point home to the human heart. It gives an image, it gives an example. It unlocks something in the heart when we tell a story, say for instance, of how somebody is living out the truth of a biblical text. Then for the listener the sermon and that particular biblical text really speaks to the heart. It's not so much, “Oh, I need more information,” but it's more, “I need to see how this is done.” Then the listener can say, “Oh, now I get it, now maybe I can do this.” See, it speaks to the heart, to the will, to the affections. Then the sermon and the text become powerful and transformative.
KM: One thing I would add too, Matt, about preaching to the heart after wanting it and trying to get up out of the notes more, and illustrations. I call it going one-on-one. It's like in a basketball game where all of a sudden you just take the play one-on-one. Sometimes I'll step aside from the pulpit and say, “Now, some of you right now, you are thinking in your heart, da da da. You are questioning how this could be true.” Usually, that's based on my pastoral knowledge of the people, and I find that somehow making it personal like that actually makes it personal for every person, and it kind of opens them up.
MW: One of the things you're getting at there, Kevin, is we not only have to exegete the biblical text, but we also have to exegete the hearts of our people. What is going on inside of their heart? Listening to the Lord to see what is going on inside of their heart. That's very powerful.
KM: You know, I love what you just said there, Matt, because I used to see hanging out with people as pulling me away from my study and preparation time for preaching. I used to think, Now, my sermon's not going to be as good because I didn't have enough time. I realize I have to be spending as much time with the living human documents as I am with the printed documents and the commentaries. They feed each other, both are central.
MW: Absolutely. That's what preaching is. One more thing, another simple thing but I think is a crucial, non-negotiable thing, and that is as you are preparing the message, as you are working with this biblical text, let it preach your heart. Let it have an experience like when Peter gave that sermon. Let it cut your heart, let it pierce into your heart. People need to see how the truth you're preaching on has impacted you. They're going to know: Has this really pierced my preacher's heart or is this just head knowledge for him/her? So let these truths grip your heart.
We pray for God's blessing on your preaching ministry. Thanks for joining us on Monday Morning Preacher. I want to give a shout out to our studio engineer, Andrew Finch, who has been with us for ten episodes. So thanks, Andrew, for being with us. God bless you in your preaching.
Bryan Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.